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What to expect in a personal injury case

Here are six points to help manage your expectations with your personal injury case. 

Length of the Case: 

On average, personal injury cases take anywhere from 10 to 12 months. If your case is a “clear liability” case, meaning there is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing the other party is liable, then your case should settle more quickly. Car accidents tend to settle faster than slip and fall cases because slip and falls are harder to prove. Dog bites settle the fastest as they are strict liability cases (automatic fault placed on the owner of the dog bites).

Your injuries will also dictate how quickly your case settles. If your injuries heal quickly, then your settlement will be smaller and faster. If your injuries are extensive, then your injuries will take longer to heal and of course, the value increases. The chances of litigating also increase with bigger injuries (i.e. damages). If your case requires a lawsuit, the average length is 2-3 years. 

Investigation:

The first step, in any case, is an investigation, i.e. gathering evidence. In this stage, there is a lot of communication with your team. The stage lasts about 1-2 months. Your team will gather police reports, incident reports, video footage, photographs, surveillance, have investigators go to the scene of the incident, etc. If you are involved in a car accident, this stage also includes the repair/replacement of your damaged property. 

Treatment: 

Once the investigation is complete, the communication should be every 3-4 weeks with your team as they oversee your medical treatment. The ideal is you getting a call/email/text every two weeks, but a good firm keeps in touch at least once a month. You should keep your case manager and team updated on your treatment after each visit. It is imperative that they know each doctor you see, and what the recommendations are in order to properly advise you and guide your case. Your treatment drives the value in your case. 

Oftentimes you may choose to treat with contractual lien doctors instead of health insurance. This is common to assist you in avoiding expensive deductibles, co-pays, poor quality doctors, and the runaround of authorization delays from health insurance companies. Do keep in mind that it is the doctor that makes the recommendations and approvals for treatment. Your attorney should not be making medical recommendations. The prescription should come from your doctor and your doctor only. 

Make sure to avoid any gaps in treatment as these severely hurt your case. Anything 1 month or more without any visit to a doctor or medical provider is a gap in treatment. Defense will argue that someone who is really in pain and injured would not be able to go that long without medical care and therefore, you are not really injured. Do not give them any ammunition against you. 

Value/Negotiations: 

Your case will move to the negotiations phase only under two scenarios. The first scenario is that you have reached the other party’s policy limits. California only requires drivers to carry a minimum of $15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident. If you do not have underinsured motorist coverage to supplement those amounts, then you may be stuck with the 15/30 California minimum. It may be possible that you are still injured, but your attorney halts your treatment because your injuries have reached the full value of the insurance policy limits. Policy limits can be 15/30, 25/50, 50/100, 100/300, 500/1M, or much more. Talk to your attorney so you know what the other party’s insurance limits are. 

The second scenario is where you get treated until you are 100% recovered. This is because the other side has more than enough policy limits or you have a high uninsured motorist policy. In this scenario, clients may also choose to simply move their case forward even if they are not 100% recovered, but we do not recommend it. This may be the only opportunity you will have for someone else to cover your past medical specials, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Should you choose to do any surgical or more aggressive procedure in the future after settling your case, you will end up paying a hefty copay or deductible out of pocket and have no one to cover your lost wages or pain and suffering. 

At this stage, your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company in an effort to settle your case without a lawsuit. This stage can take anywhere from 2-3 months.

Litigation: 

If the insurance company refuses to pay fair value for your injuries, then your attorney should recommend filing a lawsuit. This is where your fee will increase. If the insurance company is the defendant’s carrier, that is a “third-party lawsuit.” If the insurance company is your own, that is called a “first-party arbitration.” Usually, there are three reasons why a law firm should file a lawsuit. (1) The injuries are catastrophic and the law firm is looking for assets/resources to make you whole (they are aggressive out of the gate because of the nature of the injuries); (2) The other side is disputing liability (saying you are at fault); (3) The other side is undervaluing your damages and not offering you enough to make you whole. 

Your attorney should get your permission before filing a lawsuit and increasing your fee. There should be a conversation about why they are unable to settle, and why litigation is the best option to get you more money. 

Disbursement: 

You should not settle your case until you know what you will net in your pocket from the gross settlement. Many attorneys recommend settlement without telling you the most important part; how much will you get? Keep in mind that your net comes after attorney’s fees, costs, and medical bills. Good law firms will give you a net range of what you will receive, with the goal to get you more after they reduce your outstanding medical specials. 

Additionally, a good law firm will provide you with a disbursement breakdown for your signature before any check is cut from your gross settlement. The disbursement breakdown will show you the amount of attorney fee taken, the breakdown of costs, the original medical bills, the reduced medical bills, and your final net, which is tax-free money https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4345.pdf. Be sure that all of your medical providers’ visits are listed in the breakdown. Be wary of law firms that take their fee before you have signed your disbursement. 

The biggest tell of a good law firm is communication. If you are constantly chasing down your team or attorney, we recommend switching firms. Here at Castro & Company, we strive to give you not only the best legal representation and results but also to keep you informed every step of the way. We are here to make this process as stress-free as possible for you. 

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